Stile Antico – Song of Songs (2009)
SACD ISO (2.0/MCH): 3,84 GB | 24B/88,2kHz Stereo FLAC: 1,27 GB | Full Artwork
Label/Cat#: Harmonia Mundi USA # HMU 807489 | Country/Year: US 2009 | 3% Recovery Info
Genre: Classical | Style: Vocal, Choral, Sacred, Renaissance
Stile Antico gave us a wonderful sample of Renaissance polyphony from English masters on their previous disc (Heavenly Harmonies – Stile Antico), and now they turn to the other hubs of such music in the C16; the Low Countries, Spain and Italy.
The biblical Song of Songs is a collection of Hebrew love poetry, often explicitly erotic, and as such has echoed down the ages, attracting the attention of musicians even in our own times. Christian Church fathers absorbed the verses as allegories, and they were often used liturgically as a focus for Marian worship.
This Stile Antico programme is an ingenious one, ranging from the early C16th (Clemens non Papa) to works which are in effect polychoral, and thus anticipate the Early Baroque (Guerrero). Groups of polyphonic works are interspersed with short plainchant antiphons from (or adapted from) the Song of Songs, sung by a small group of women. These timeless melismas are palate-cleansing when set against the rich tapestries of interweaving polyphony. Several of the plainchant melodies were also used as the thematic basis for the polyphonic works (as ‘cantus firmus’).
The dozen members of British group Style Antiquo are all in their 20s, and certainly rival a number of well-established choirs in this repertoire, such as Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen. The group has a distinctive sound, however, with a sweet freshness and spontaneity deriving from their chamber music approach (having no conductor). They also prepare their own performing editions for most of the pieces on the recording. Concentration and preparation are remarkable; structure, textural meaning and harmonic movements are all fully worked out for each piece, then translated to a gripping and purposefully flowing interpretation with superbly controlled line-shaping and dynamics. Final cadences are often arrived at with magical effect, truly a ‘coming home’, whether on a climactic note or a gentle diminuendo. It is unusually easy to listen “inside” the transparent textures and hear each individual voice. From the inward stillness of the opening piece by Clemens non Papa to the surging and passionate drama of Victoria’s final Vidi speciosam, these are performances of great depth and vision. It is important to remember that these manuscripts have almost no tempo or dynamic instructions, the performing practices being passed on by imitation from those directed by the composer-singers.
The Harmonia Mundi recording took place in the well-known venue of St Jude-on-the-Hill, London. Its benevolent acoustic resounds with the vocal tapestries, providing an unforgettable multi-channel experience. An immaculate balance is established from the start, and the singers use the sonorities offered by the building with great intelligence. The quietly-sung plainchants seem to be heard from slightly further back, which is very atmospheric. Stile Antico have a surprisingly wide dynamic range which is easily contained in this remarkably natural-sounding DSD capture.
Production values are very high as usual for this label, with beautiful art-work and photography. I was amused by the visual joke of having a photograph of the choir members sitting very formally on chairs around a white room on the booklet cover, while on the booklet sleeve in the digipak, the chairs are empty. There is also a photo of the group warming up with physical exercises before singing. A very informative account of the music is provided, and full Latin texts are supported by translations in English, French and German.
Ancient love-poetry and masterpieces of Renaissance polyphony: the very essence of music. Not to be missed.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net
01 Clemens non Papa
Ego flos campi 6:05
02 Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Osculetur me 3:24
Antiphon: Cum esset rex 0:44
04 Francisco Guerrero
Surge, propera amica mea 6:07
05 Nicolas Gombert
Quam pulchra es 6:11
Antiphon: Nigra sum 0:41
07 Orlande de Lassus
Veni, dilecte mi 4:19
08 Tomás Luis de Victoria
Vadam et circuibo 10:41
Alleluia: Tota pulchra es 2:41
10 Francisco Guerrero
Ego flos campi 3:18
11 Jean Lhéritier
Nigra sum 5:34
Antiphon: Laeva eius 0:37
13 Rodrigo de Ceballos
Hortus conclusus 5:33
14 Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Nigra sum 3:58
Antiphon: Speciosa facta es 0:42
16 Sebastian de Vivanco
Veni, dilecte mi 4:22
17 Francisco Guerrero
Trahe me post te 5:16
Antiphon: Iam hiems transiit 0:49
19 Tomás Luis de Victoria
Vidi speciosam 6:39